from the sample chapter of The DBT® Solution for Emotional Eating (2018):

“The Carrot and the Stick”: The Fundamentals of Positive and Negative Reinforcement Science

Behavioral psychology helps to explain how reinforcement affects our actions. A reinforcer is anything that increases the chance that we will engage in a behavior. Reinforcers can be positive or negative. A positive reinforcer might be being paid money at the end of each binge-eating episode, where a negative reinforcer might be reducing your emotional discomfort. Either reward will encourage you to binge eat again. But, many of our patients argue, they actually feel worse after a binge and it doesn’t always “work” to reduce negative, painful emotions. How, then, can reinforcement principles explain why they still binge?

There are two reasons:

1. Bingeing offers the short-term benefit of numbing painful emotions, even though in the longer term it may increase distress, guilt, shame, and disgust.

2. Bingeing seems to “work” some of the time. If it worked every time and then suddenly stopped working, you would probably try something else to deal with painful emotions. But when it “pays off” just often enough to convince you that there’s a chance it will do so this time, you’ll keep turning to it. Fortunately, you can use this intermittent or variable reinforcement to make positive changes in this program: If you try hard to use the skills we teach in this program and find that sometimes they work very well, you’ll be more likely to keep using them even if they don’t work every single time.